The idea of “bouncing back” from an affair actually doesn’t sit very well with me. It seems somehow to suggest a happy, cheerful recovery period and belies the stress inherent in dealing with the aftermath of infidelity. When I think of the movement past an affair, I tend to think more of a difficult, painful, reluctant crawl back to wherever that couple was before or hopefully to an even better place.
When a relationship which is designed to be sexually exclusive, is threatened by a third party, then that relationship runs the risk of becoming unglued at the seams. Sex with an “outside” partner, threatens the core of what marriage stands for; the idea of forsaking all others. While there are a variety of reasons why people cheat, if a coupe desires to move beyond the affair, then there is the need for honest reflection, to determine why the affair happened.
People cheat for a variety of reasons including relationship neglect, boredom, sexual dissatisfaction, emotional disconnection, sexual greed, unhappiness, low self-esteem, and this list goes on. This knowledge of “why” is critical because it identifies the relationship’s weaknesses. If the couple intends to go forward, this information will be necessary to preserve relationship health and to safeguard it against future threats. This of course assumes that the underlying issues are exposed and remedied through honest and open communication.
While a knowledge of what made the relationship vulnerable to infidelity is great, the reason for cheating should not be used to excuse the act. In other words, the partner who understands why he/she cheated must also be willing to assume responsibility for the affair. It is therefore never kosher to intimate that your partner made you do it. The guilty party must own up to a moment of weakness, bad judgment, a lack of integrity, selfishness and the like. Admitting where you went wrong is critical to the experience of forgiveness.
Forgiveness should be seen as a mutual, active process and not as a one-time event. The words “I forgive you” must never be forced or said prematurely. The victim of infidelity needs to be given time to grieve the relationship which was. This grieving process is experienced differently by individuals and may be evidenced by emotional and sexual withdrawal, depression, anger, rage, crying or sessions of screaming and throwing things. Whatever the case, it is critical that the victim of infidelity is allowed to vent before there is even am attempt at “fixing” things.
This venting is also often a process and not a one-off event which is characterized by the convenient forgetting of all that has occurred. An affair forever changes a relationship and even though healing is possible, what was lost can never be regained and as painful as this might be for both parties to accept, it must be, if there is to be true progress. This process may be assisted through counseling, therapy or personal pursuits like journaling which help to clarify difficult emotions.
Redefining the damaged relationship is necessary and should be seen as an on-going part of the healing process. Deciding together how you want your new relationship to look is going to be a major step in getting your couple groove back. Since an affair involves a fair amount of deceit, then coming clean about all aspects of the affair will be critical to moving forward. This means a new commitment to honesty and accountability, in an attempt to rebuild trust. Questions are to be expected and should be answered candidly.
Since rekindling a healthy sex life is likely to be more challenging, the guilty party should take the cue from his/her partner. While sex itself can be a great healer, it should never be forced prematurely. At the same time, carving out special time together for meaningful communication, attentiveness, romantic gestures and the like, are useful strategies for reconnecting as a couple.